The day I met Martin Luther King [Opinion: The Arena]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Frankfort, Ky. March 5, 1964

The House leadership outsmarted us.  They sent word that we were welcome to stay in the gallery as long as we wanted, so long as we didn’t damage any of the furniture.  The Kentucky legislature adjourned, sine die.  The lights were turned down, and we sat in the balcony, staring down to the dark and empty legislative chamber below.

King March on Frankfort 1963a.jpgThen, Frank Stanley, Jr., came up with an idea:  we’d stage a hunger strike.  I hadn’t signed on for this sort of thing, but I thought, “What the hell—if Gandhi could do it, why can’t I?”  I slipped out to a payphone to call my folks and tell them I wouldn’t be home for dinner.  I began to regret not finishing my breakfast.

By the second day of the hunger strike, the national press had arrived, and the papers were full of the story.  The legislators had all gone home, but “these brave students” were “putting their lives on the line for freedom.”  Film at eleven.  I’m not sure how brave we were (I certainly wasn’t), but going a couple of days without food (there was a soft drink machine in the basement) could hardly push a healthy young adult to the edge of extinction.  Finally, Mr. Stanley arranged for a teenaged girl to “swoon” in front of the television cameras, and, with a flourish of oratory, called an end to the hunger strike, as the ambulance crew ceremoniously removed the poor girl from the building.  As an adult, he just couldn’t stand by and allow “these brave students” to perish; even in the name of freedom and justice.  Much of politics is theater.

King March on Frankfort 1964f.jpgWhat really brought this whole thing home to me was a photograph snapped of me by a photographer from United Press International.  I was asleep in a gallery seat, in my Bellarmine College blazer, with my “Freedom or Death” sign around my neck.  The next day, the photo was on the front page of The Louisville Times, top right, above the fold.

The Louisville Times was the afternoon edition of The Courier-Journal, and was delivered to homes in Louisville in time for reading at the dinner table.  But an earlier edition of the Times, know as the Red Flash, came out around noon, each weekday.  At the time, my father worked in the Internal Revenue office in Louisville’s federal courthouse building, across the street from the Courier-Journal building.  A fellow IRS agent, returning from lunch, picked up a copy on his way back to the office and plopped in down on my father’s desk.

“Look what that nigger-loving boy of yours is up to now,” he sneered at my father.  My father, every bit of 5-foot 6-inches, glanced at the front page of the Red Flash, stood up, and punched his colleague in the nose.  After other IRS agents broke up the fight (my Dad was in the Golden Gloves as a kid, so I don’t imagine it was much of a contest), the pugilists were sent to the Director’s office, where they were made to apologize and admonished that this sort of behavior could not be tolerated in a U.S. government office.  They shook hands, and the matter was forgotten.  I was never so proud of my Dad.

McAdam 03-05-64.jpg

Photo by UPI, from The Louisville Times

--------------'s The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions).



About Thomas McAdam
At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.
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